Many of the avocados that California companies import from Chile go to foodservice — a segment of the industry that shippers say generally has remained strong despite the recession.
“Fortunately, avocados remain popular and have been gaining popularity for a variety of reasons,” said Phil Henry, president of Henry Avocado Corp., Escondido, Calif.
Avocados have been a staple for Mexican restaurants, which have done reasonably well throughout the recession, he said.
Also, avocados have a favorable nutrition message.
The company sells about half of its Chilean avocados to the foodservice industry, and nearly all of them are custom ripened by Henry Avocado, he said.
“We’re seeing continued growth,” Henry said. “Avocados are on the menus of most mainstream restaurants.”
More types of restaurants
Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and marketing for Calavo Growers Inc., Santa Paula, Calif., said he also sees more restaurants using fresh avocados.
“It’s quite unbelievable how many restaurants that went for years without avocados now have menu items with avocados,” he said.
The trend has expanded beyond Mexican restaurants to sandwich shops and even sushi restaurants, he said.
The Subway chain’s campaign to make avocados available for its sandwiches has been a positive move for the avocado industry, said Jim Donovan, vice president of business development for Mission Produce Inc., Oxnard, Calif.
“That’s been amazingly successful,” he said. “It’s one example of a number of non-Mexican food restaurants that are really jumping on the bandwagon to use avocados.”
Foodservice customers of Interfresh Inc., Fullerton, Calif., can save time and labor costs by taking advantage of the company’s AvoFresh avocado pulp product, said Brandon Gritters, avocado salesman.
This season’s relatively high prices on avocados have made AvoFresh more competitively priced than usual, he said.
Chefs can add cilantro, tomatoes or whatever they want to the chunky product to make guacamole without having to cut up and prepare avocados, he said.
The fact that avocados remain a popular foodservice item doesn’t mean restaurant business as a whole has not dropped off.
“Without question, the recession has hurt restaurant business,” Henry said.
High unemployment has kept many consumers eating more meals at home, he said.
Nonetheless, restaurants of all types continue to add avocados, he said, and business could be heading back up.
“We were seeing some improvement earlier this year,” he said.
Calavo has seen its ProRipeVIP ripening program expand on the distributor level as foodservice distributors rely on the company to preripen avocados intended for foodservice customers.
The shift from Mexican restaurants to restaurants across the board, even during the recession, has been favorable for the avocado industry, he said.
Chefs prefer avocados from midseason and later, Donovan said.
“The early crops from Chile and Mexico really aren’t the first choice for foodservice,” he said.
“We usually see foodservice come into play from October onward.”
That’s because the oil content of the fruit typically is higher after midseason, and that produces a better taste profile than the early crop, he said.
The good news for Chilean growers is that foodservice buyers will stick with their fruit after the early crop starts to come in during the spring from California and Peru, Donovan said.